We spoke with R&B powerhouse Cherry about her upcoming release, her songwriting process as a whole, and the distinct identity that surrounds being a New Yorker.
[This follows a conversation that took place immediately before about the rising interest in social justice in New York City]
RC: How do you feel about how that conversation has really come to the forefront of people’s mind in the city?
C: Oh. I’m pretty happy it’s happening, you know? And, I feel like it’s weird because I fall in such like a weird middle ground so I never know… for like literally every part of my identity I’m in weird a middle ground.
RC: What do you mean?
C: It’s like, I’m Latina but I’m white… Or like, maybe mixed, I don’t really know, it’s like, Puerto Ricans, what are we doin,’ you know? [laughs] And, um, I’m, like, queer but I’m dating a guy, and I have been dating a guy for like most of my like, adult-ish life, and, I’m… like, uh… what else, I’m like, kinda’ living in- I like in Brooklyn but in like a gentrified area, but I’m still like, don’t have a lot of money- It’s... just like, a lot of like, weird areas of like middle ground between like privilege and like… I gu- I don’t like- I guess I don’t- I hate the word “oppression” because I feel like it’s so definitive. Sometimes it’s things that I don’t feel like, I mean I feel oppressed by but I’d rather not, like, look at is as… like, o- always as oppression and more of like something that I’ll like, celebrate. But… it’s like… so, I never feel like I’m- I’m- if I’m participating in a conversation like as an ally or as, like, actually a person who’s being affected by something, you know what I mean? It’s kind of like this weird space, but I think it’s super interesting that it’s happening.
RC: Yeah. There seems to be a lot of crossover with that and also the art that everyone’s making too.
C: Yeah. Totally. I used to be like, really really into activism and like I’d go to all these meetings and stuff, and then it got kinda- it got like, taxing on like, well my mental health, but also like taxing on… I just felt like it was a lot of work that I wasn’t like ready to do like reading and stuff like… uh, like research, and know that’s really like, a really shitty thing to say, like “oh, I’m just not going to participate in this anymore,” but I feel like I’m much better suited to like that through art. You know what I mean?
RC: Yeah. And would you say that you like, that’s really a big part of like your writing, or- or not really?
C: Yeah. Totally. The album that I’m coming out with now is like a- pretty much like a feminist concept album. Like, about, like, it’s basically like songs that I’ve written up throughout like my teenage years and like, recently. And, kind of a journey through like discovery of identity and like the female- well like, I guess like, cis female identity, because I can’t speak for any other female identity... Like, that, how that like- how’s that’s affected me, and like how that’s affected other people and I like mashed it with this uh spoken word poem that I wrote. I don’t write that much spoken word just like a f- this one that I did that’s like multi part and it’s like, different ways of looking at like female sexuality and like, how like, women look- like women look at sex and like, also, women are looked at for sex, and like different like, levels of that I guess. So, definitely like womanhood and girlhood has really like informed my stuff, but like… yeah.
RC: Do you think there’s a reason why?
C: Um… I think like, from a very young age, like I took- I noticed my like… I guess like oppression as a woman, and like thought it was fucked up even before I knew what feminism was, you know. And I kinda’ like, took it from like- like every time like even just like little boys would be like “boys are better than girls” I’d be like, “fuck you, ya’ know?”... And, like, femininity, and like the female experience is always something that’s been very like sexual to me and I feel like different things that have happened to me… Especially being like a woman and being like a loud woman, and like, Latina and like, living in- I guess like having a bigger body for the majority of my life like… just taking up a lot of space
C: As a person. And like, it’s definitely like been uh- like from- like- well- when I was a lot, just like ‘you’re too loud, you’re too outgoing, like ya’ know, you should be more quiet and stuff.” And that always made me angry and then I realized that it all tied into like all these like otyher systems of, of oppression and this stuff, and when, ya’ know, like different ya’ know, weird relationships I had in, in high school… stuff like that and like, all of this kinda’ factored into like my identity and I feel like womanhood and girlhood is just so sexual it’s like who I am, like… how could I- and it’s- it’s very , like, inspires me alot, ya’ know?... To like, “oh, I wanna write about this because… it makes me think, it makes me feel something” and like… I think- ya’ know, I feel like I like to express myself about that, ya’ know what I mean?
RC: Yeah. And it certainly seems like, that’s also a big part of… your persona in the live shows. Absolutely.
C: Yeah. Yeah.
RC: How do you…?
C: Um. I mean, I just like I feel like I build myself up in my head [laughs] to have like- or like I’d like to be like yeah, when I’m onstage I like to have this character where like the character of Cherry is like, uh… you know, super like bad ass and loud and doesn’t give a shit about anything and like, you know, angry but also like, oh- like- I’m it’s just like- overly emotional I feel like that is like, definitely like a more theatrical exaggerated version of myself but there is still a part of me that’s very like, shy and like- not shy, but like, awkward and like, a little bit reserved and unsure and I’m still getting practice playing live you know. Like I’ve been doing it forever but it never feels like I’m ready you know. It always feels like I’m still not where I want to be. Like, in terms of my live performance and like being comfortable on stage, especially like speaking- And sometimes like… I feel like it’s… um… I don’t know, I get very nervous so I don’t feel like the character like fully comes out yet the way I want it to. But, I don’t know, I couldn’t- I- it’s getting there. I guess. Maybe. So Cherry’s like a really- what’s it- it seems like a really consciously conceived character.
RC: How did that come into fruition?
C: Um, well the name came recently because I was just- before that I just used my- my real name, um, Marina, and then my middle name, that’s my mom’s last name. So I used that, and a lot of people were like “Why’d you change it? That’s so cool” and I feel like I’m just too vulnerable using my own name... And I was all- I like thought for months and months like what I want to call myself and I’ve always been like really into like pin-up clothes and like my culture and that’s something that was really like… helped me like learn to love my body and stuff like that and learn to be more confident so, I, um… like cherries are a big symbol of that and like I, I got a- I have like a really bad tattoo of cherries on my back, like-
C: [laughs] It’s really bad. But that like I got on a whim, in Canada, when I was eighteen, and um… I always thought like, if I had like a name that wasn’t my name that I’d want people to call me that could also be like a project name, like what would it be, and I- I kind of like thought forever and like I always thought Cherry was like too cheesy and like, oh, people wouldn’t be able to Google me ‘cause they’ll just get like cherries, ya’ know? Then finally I was just like, I dont care like I like it, it’s- makes me comfortable. Ya’ know?
RC: Yeah. right.
C: And, I’ve dabbled with like oh is- when- when it’s like, myself it’s- like, me myself it’s just Cherry and when it’s the band it’s The Cherry Circus.
RC: Oh okay.
C: Because, like, I want to make it more of like a whole… mul- not multimedia but like multi-performance like just- beyond the music, the theatre kind of experience-
RC: You want to create a universe, essentially.
C: Yeah! I- I never really thought of it that way but like yeah I want to create like a full performance, ya’ know?
C: And… I’ve thought like, Cherry Theatre is a little weird like Circus is like, almost like- everything is so exaggerated and theatrical and like, freaky y in a way, that I feel like that would be a good thing to create, but then like, I have like this perfect vision of like a live performance which includes doing like the poetry vibe and like stuff that I could never seem to find enough rehearsal time to get that down because it would take a lot so it’s like, I always feel like I’m- I have this big picture idea and I’m not quite there, but… yeah.
RC: I’m interested in seeing like how those shows would like come- like what’s your ideal like, way that you could see that set?
C: It would be like… I mean my band would probably hate me, but um… I mean they- it is pretty- it is like my band like they- I- it’s my like creative process and like- they- like they- it’s bad, that sounds especially bad but like, we all work together. But like- I’m like- I guess like the creative director.
RC: Yeah I mean of course, it’s your music.
C: Yeah. So, um, it would be- I would be- I- like I would have- ideally, if I could have anything, it would be like a small like intimate space, but with like red curtains. Um… my band’s kind of like, all kinda’ uniform-looking with like… if I could get them in suits, but like ya’ know, it’s- it’s hard, like no one wants to wear like a suit, you know what I mean?
RC: Yeah. Right.
C: But um… and just kind of like light cues and like, between each song I’d have like… ya’ know I’d do like a performance piece and kind of make it very much like, flow cohesively as a story, like, almost like a one-person musical, but… and I’m, kind of like, everything’s… yeah, like everything’s cohesive, everything kinda’ has a, a thesis statement, you know what I mean? And… I guess like I’d like to become more comfortable with like, dancing and like movement because I always feel like, I think I got it and then I watch myself back and I’m just like ew what am I doing. But um, y’know, something like that. And I- I- maybe like in future projects I’ll expand that concept more, like if I can have more people on stage with me like, if I had like, scene partners or like dancers like- I don’t know, I think like I have a lot of ideas and a lot of them just like… they take- they’re so ambitious and like crazy and I don’t know if I can ever like, actually make them happen.
RC: Yeah. I mean a lot of that imagery seems to really take from, these other… like older references like maybe older rhythm n’ blues, like a James Brown type-
C: Yeah. Definitely.
RC: Like Etta James and like these other people. And, it- it- even sonically it seems to be kind of where you’re drawing from.
C: Yeah, totally.
RC: So- like- if you were to kind of outline every part of the sonic influences of Cherry, what- is that the extent of it or like what else is there?
C: Um, like musically? Okay, so… I love Led Zeppelin. I- I feel like, like I, I love rock music like that like 1960s like, and 70s just like rock n’ roll, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, you know and The Beatles even though they’re not like that theatrical and then David Bowie would be like, sonically, but also conceptually, a- my biggest influence… in the sense that he creates this like super-human character for like everything he does and then- and then, the music is always so perfect and perfectly conceived, I think the only thing that he- he like- he does that I wouldn’t want to do is like, everything to him is kind of impersonal, and I feel like a big part of like me is like making things very personal. So… I guess… what else do I listen to? Amy Winehouse. I- I love her. Definitely like a vocal influence... Definitely like, Etta James I love. Um, Billie Holiday in terms of like, voc- vocally. Um, The Velvet Underground also like, conceptually and like, band-wise and like sound-wise like the, kind of like,grittiness and, I mean, I’ve spent some time in like, conservatory life like, the past year, and I feel like the- the stress in conservatory life is like how- is like, harmony and like, how do you make everything more like harmonically interesting. And for that like I feel like everybody wants to sound like Hiatus Koyote... So like I’ve been thinking like oh like I should do a more like neo-soul kind of thing so, I guess that’s been influencing me more lately like to- to try it out and to move like a little bit away from the blues- the like- standard like blues-rock harmony to be like- to some like behind the knee kind of D’Angelo, J Dilla kinda’ stuff. And, just ‘cause everybody in my band also plays like that there are- there are two- well, three- like two jazz majors and like, actually they’re all jazz majors... [laughs] Except one of them is like taking some time off from school, my drummer, but that’s kind of like what- what they play mostly so, it’d be interesting to draw from some of their talent too and like see- try it out.
RC: So you write all of their parts, at this point. Or like how does that work?
C: Um I write the lyrics and melody and some of the chords and my guitarist writes a lot of- a lot of times I’ll take something to him and I’ll be like, how can I finish it? Or like add some- like, add some like ha- harmonic influences or like does this- does this work and we kinda’ like we’ll work that kinda’ aspect of that together. And, some things I’ll write completely some thing ya’ know he’ll write more of. And, we do collaborate a lot um, and then, we’ll kind of bring it to rehearsal and I’ll generally have an idea of what I want everybody to do, and- or like he will. And we’ll kind of like direct them and they… but I’m not- I’m open to people’s ideas and stuff like- Also for the horns um, like at least on this album like I wrote one of the- I wrote one of the horn parts my guitarist wrote one of the horn parts and one of the horn players wrote one of the horn parts, so….
RC: Oh okay, and that would be for every song basically?
C: Yeah. It’s kind of like a song-by-song basis like what happens but the- the general like- all my- all the lyrics are mine, all of like the melodies are mine. And, yeah.
RC: That’s cool, alright. Has it always been that way?
C: Uh, yeah.
RC: How did you develop when you were writing songs, like….
C: Um, I’ve kinda’ been- it’s kinda’ been something that I’ve been like interested in since I was a little kid so, I used to just… general processes like, either like- like a word idea- ‘cause like, I think that’s like one of my biggest insp- like, things that inspire me was like words and wordplay and writing lyrics so I’ll, I’ll like have an idea for like a concept or like a- I’ll think of a line that I think is cool so, I’ll develop based on that usually like lyric and melody kinda’ come together and then I’ll sit down and like try to match it up to like a set of chords or like a set of harmony and, um, sometimes the progression comes first sometimes- sometimes melody sometimes lyrics, but usually that’s the kind of like, how it goes down.
RC: Right. And are you happy with how it’s been going as of late? How you’ve been writing? Or are there certain process- process’ that you… might want to change it up?
C: Um, I’d like to be more like self-reliant on the harmonic end like, it’s always been something that I struggle with ‘cause I don’t really play instruments very much... Like I can play a little guitar a little piano a little uke like… um, and I do that like… I’ve always been that- it’s always been the part that- it excites me the least, like the actual physical playing of it. ‘Cause like of course everyone wants to be like a rockstar but like I stemmed it’s stemmed from a lot of like- just laziness and like-: Um, fear of fucking up throughout my life and then I feel like I felt like kinda’ behind because like I’d always try to- like, write the, write the harmony of, as- I guess like as quick as possible ‘cause like I want to like have my finished like part as fast as possible. And then, in turn the- like the harmony was lacking in a lot of places, so… um, and that’s when like, my guitarist came in and he was like oh like I can help you with that y’know like I can, help you out and like, I- I’ve been becoming I think more like self-sufficient with it like as I’ve- especially like being in music school and like learning about this kind of stuff but, um, I’d like to get to a place where I can like, write like a harmonic accompaniment that I’m completely satisfied with, y’know? Without anybody’s help.
RC: Yeah. And you’re- from what I’ve- you’re also seeing your guitar player right? From what I’ve- you guys are like-
RC: Is that a variable that you’d consider? Like when you guys are writing together.
C: Um, not really like, uh I remember, I was very resistant to working together with him for a while, because like I didn’t want to fall into like a Fleetwood Mac situation, y’know?...Like it’s definitely like a risky- risky business kinda’ doing that, but um, for- y’know-
I was kind of in a musical funk when we got together like I would play guitar really badly and my friend would play drums and that was kind of my like performance and he was like let me play guitar for you and i was like i don’t think thats a good idea and i really didn’t want to do that because he’s a jazz kid you know what i mean but was also in a ton of bands in high school so he has his roots really deep in the punk rock he did in high school but i feel like he wouldn’t be interested in playing for me and he just pushes me so much not only for the sake of the music but also because he genuinely cares about me and want me to do well and he also really supports because I’m like very emotional and hard on himself and having him be like “work do your work i believe in you it’s worth it” is really helpful but i mean in terms of writing lyrics together we have written lyrics together we both drew from very personal experiences we and a song about being a kid from new york and one about doing a heist and moving to california so that kind of influence and the fact that when we hang out we would spend hours hanging out and it was replaced with hours of making music so i think its been a benefit for both of us which is also a drawback because it we fight over music it affects our music
RC: How did you meet up with everyone else in the band?
C: TJ, the guitarist, met this other band that I’m in called Q and A that i wasn’t in at the time he answered an ad and he used to go to the new school and the drummer marco went to new school so they kind of knew each other but they got to really know each other through this band. Then i had to do this show and i was like “I don’t want it to be acoustic” so TJ was like “Dont worry we’ll get other musicians from Q and A for the show”... The bassist left I’ve had so many bassists, the core is TJ and Marco and I met the current bassist through Purchase and then the horn players were both in Purchase.
RC: The purchase music is really intriguing...
C: Well it’s a very isolated campus so i feel like, there are no frats either, so people go to shows for fun at people’s apartments or at the Stood [a venue at SUNY Purchase]. It’s kind of the thing to do because there’s not much else to do, because, there aren’t frat parties and stuff there. And being in a conservatory you’re surrounded by all of these people that want to do shows and i think that it’s such a nurturing environment that results in a lot of bands you could probably find at least five shows a week to go to: not only are there bands, but there are a bunch of ensembles. It’s really crazy there’s always something going on
R: Who are you most excited about?
C: Strawberry Blonde! They’re really tight. The drummer keeps such a consistent groove and the singer Liam has a crazy falsetto and they have a trumpet players who’s awesome they’re great. Simone’s doing great stuff. I love Marcella too, she’s doing really great stuff. Jelanie Sey they are so good i would like go to a $40 show to see them they’re so tight i guess they’re not a Purchase band because only Evan goes to Purchase.
R: Do you think that going to Purchase has changed your songwriting process?
C: I mean growing up in the city is a really inspiring part of my life in general because it’s such a distinct experience... Like you just know when somebody’s a city and that makes you really different so city bands where people all live here are just different not better. I feel like there’s this stereotype of New Yorkers being superior assholes, but i feel like if you grew up in New York you had like a long commute to school and like you’ve been exposed to so much stuff from such a young age.. you probably saw a homeless man masturbating on the train when you were 10.. i can’t speak on any other experience i just feel like bodega culture and halal carts and hopping the turnstile the access to the melting pot of new york you probably know someone from every possible culture, you always just know when somebody’s from the city. There’s this kind of kindred experience and I feel like everyone wants to come here and i feel like it makes me more angry when I’m in new york and i see a lot of people who weren’t from here try to claim the identity of a New Yorker and be exclusive...Gentrification is something I’m passionate about and of course everyone is entitled to live but there’s this layer of... too many people want to live here and it’s getting bad. I’ll go to these shows and there will be a bunch of these kids and the show was great but nobody spoke to each other and it wasn’t an inclusive environment it’s something I’m really territorial about where i grew up and weary of people trying to claim it as their own.
RV: Is Cherry political?
C: I feel like it’s not inherently political but it’s an extension of me. I can’t help but give a shit because of a lot of things that affect me personally and like injustice just makes me so mad so the band is personal but because of the political feelings i have it becomes political. Like i was thinking about how feminist this new album is it’s even called “Like a Lady”... I thought maybe for my next project i could tone it down and be more emotional and soft and be less of this character I’ve created for myself and be softer and vulnerable... So i feel like it’s a project by project basis so maybe in future projects those issues will be less on my mind but i will always think about things politically.
RC: what else can you tell us about the record?
C: It’s six songs and six little poems interludes over music little jams under it of different genres i feel represent the poems best. There’s this punk jam from a poem about a time I had with my ex boyfriend that interlude represents that time in my life where that was a prominent sound. I have another that’s more current to my sex life with a D’angelo style beat. They’re really short but they move the story along the songs are all mine that i worked on with the band three of them have horns and three of them don’t. I hope if everything goes according to plan that we can release it in August. We’re tracked and it’s being mixed and mastered right now by Peter Johnson who goes by Ordinance Music on soundcloud. Delany Hefner engineered it she’s in this band called Panda Fan.
“Like a Lady” drops this Friday August 26thhttps://www.facebook.com/cherrymusicnyc/